Snakes and Ladders
Vaikuntapaali or Parampada Sopanam, better known as Snakes and Ladders made its appearance in India somewhere around 2 B.C.
Like Life, the game is full of ups and downs; like Hinduism, being swallowed by the snake (evil) brought death which lead to the cycle of rebirths, going through the entire process, again, subject to the same roll of dice or cowries. Good deeds (aka ladders) took you higher and away from the cycle of karma.
Interestingly, the positioning of the ladders and snakes had deeper moral implications.
The squares of virtue on the original game were Faith (12), Reliability (51), Generosity (57), Knowledge (76), Asceticism (78).
The squares of evil are Disobedience (41), Vanity (44), Vulgarity (49), Theft (52), Lying (58), Drunkenness (62), Debt (69), Rage (84), Greed (92), Pride (95), Murder (73) and Lust (99).
One opines that the final square is release or Nirvana.
The game was "discovered" by the British in the 1850s; their Victorian values probably identified with the values in the game, though they sanitized it for the religious implications and exported it as a game for children.
There are indications that the game may have been derived from the dasapada another game that was played on a 10x10 grid, while still others cite Sant Gyandev, a 13th century poet as the author, this game being originally called Mokshapat, or the path to salvation.
Andrew Topsfield (Artebus Asiae, 1985), while lamenting the ephemeral nature of the original cloth and paper boards, believes the game to be a secular version of the gyan chaupar (loosely translated as 'the chess of knowledge'), no dated version of which survives from before the 18th century.
In this version of the game, there are 72 squares and the aim of the game is to reach Vaikuntha (the abode of Vishnu), or square 68, through the ladders of virtue, with the snakes of sin hampering progress.
Then you have the Jain version of the game, which can be played online here.
Even the British were pretty imaginative in their interpretations, with a variety of boards designed around the basic game.
Interesting how games evolve with time, culture and players.
I wonder about the rules and level of complexity of the original Indian games, which were designed for adults, rather than children.
Snakes and Ladders
- » Published on December 01, 2007
- » Type: Review
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